Focusing On One College Hoops Conference Can Lead to Profits
by Trevor Whenham - 01/11/2007
You'll hear people say all the time that the best way to be profitable when betting on college basketball is to pick a conference or two and get to know everything that there is to know about them. That way, when conference play starts, you'll have a very good sense of what the teams are capable of, and you'll do a much better job of spotting value in the lines in those conference games. I buy that, but only partly. The risk is that you will get to know the league so well that you will become attached to it, and in your closeness you will miss factors that would be apparent with a bit more distance. Blinded by love, so to speak.
Despite that risk, there is something to be said for the approach. If you were going to pick a league to follow, you would probably want to include several factors, including ease of access to information, number of teams and the number of competitive teams. You would want a league that would get enough betting attention that you can always find a line, but you would want to try to avoid one where there is so much action that any stray lines are corrected before you can get a piece of them. Because you would be paying attention to the league, and spending so much time reading about it and watching it, you would also, of course, want to pick a league that would be interesting. With all of that in mind, here is my ranking of the four leagues that I would adopt right now if I were to adopt a league:
1) Big West - With the exception of a really bad UC Riverside team, and a pretty bad Cal Poly team, this is a fairly evenly matched league. None of the teams are particularly good, and none are particularly bad. Regardless of what ranking system you like to use, most of these teams will fall somewhere between 100 and 200. Though similar in quality, the teams are very different in style. Cal St. Fullerton is among the more up-tempo teams in the country, and Long Beach State and Cal St. Northridge can run with almost anyone, while Pacific is so slow that they are almost glacial. Those differences can open up the real possibility of totals that seem out of whack. On the matter of interest the league stands up well, since none of the teams exhibit any interest in playing disciplined defense on a consistent basis, so the games are rarely tight defensive battles.
2) Conference USA - Following this league would have a number of advantages. First of all, you'd get to watch a lot of Memphis. Their success seems improbable given their losses from last year's stellar roster, but they are playing very well, with solid offense and outstanding defense, and could play well into the second weekend of the tournament. Also in the league is Houston, one of the more intriguing nondescript teams with a losing record in the country. They are a very fast paced team, and have the look of a squad who is dying to be much better than they are. Beyond those teams, you have a good collection of respectable squads that could put together a string of wins, but that won't force you to have to deal with huge and difficult to decipher spreads - Tulsa, Southern Mississippi, SMU, Central Florida. There is no question about this being a high profile league - besides Memphis there is no real reason for the national audience to care about this league. That doesn't mean that they aren't interesting, though, and the teams possess a consistency and a general competence that leads to potential profits.
3) Horizon - This league just got a lot more interesting on Wednesday night. Before then it seemed like Butler, with their 14-1 record and wins against the likes of Gonzaga and Tennessee, would outclass their conference and cruise to a high seed in the tournament. On Wednesday night, Illinois-Chicago thankfully disrupted that plan. By beating Butler in overtime, the Flames showed that this conference will be more competitive at the top than people thought. Despite that upset, Butler is still by far the best team in the conference. They have to play a lot of teams, though, that, like Illinois-Chicago, are feisty and fun to watch. It would take a miracle for any team other than Butler to make the tournament, but Loyola Chicago, Detroit, Wisconsin Milwaukee and Wisconsin Green Bay are all the kind of teams that could post an upset on any given day. What's most impressive about this conference is the strength of their non-conference schedule. There are only nine teams in the conference, but four of them have strengths of schedule that are among the 40 highest in the country. That can mean that teams are better than their record indicates, and that can mean that you can find value in lines.
4) Pac-10 - As much fun as it is to follow some of the smaller leagues, I can't entirely ignore the major conferences. If I have to take one, the Pac-10 is unquestionably the one I want. The ACC may have more elite teams (though that is debatable), and the Big Ten is in for a serious war at the top of the standings, but the Pac-10 is going to be the toughest conference to win. If the tournament started today, UCLA would be a legitimate No. 1 seed. Oregon had played a suspect schedule, but their win over the Bruins showed that they may be for real. Arizona, with frosh freak Chase Budinger, could play with any team in the country. Washington State is off to their best start since the invention of the light bulb, and they beat Arizona in an incredible overtime game last time out. USC probably caught Oregon when they were looking past them, but they still beat them. Even Washington, Cal and Stanford could win any game on any given day. In other words, this is a conference full of very good teams that will spend the next two months beating each other up. The other advantage of the Pac-10 is that the games are almost always the latest major conference games of the night. People looking for a win to turn a day around will often jump onto these games with late action. That could move the prices close to game time, and it could help you out with an extra point or two if you like an underdog against a public favorite.